Aksaray

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Aksaray has seen Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, and Alexander the Great, all of whom wisely moved on once their business was done. In 1470, the Ottomans forcibly transplanted many of the city’s residents in order to boost the Muslim population of Istanbul; most travelers will wonder why all Aksarayans didn’t jump at the opportunity to leave. A few Selçuk and Karamanoglu sites aside, noisy and large Aksaray has nothing to offer the traveler but a bus station with connections throughout Cappadocia and the rest of Turkey.

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TRANSPORTATION

To get to the main square from the otogar, turn left out of the building, make the first left, and walk 5min.

Buses run to: Alanya (12hr., 8pm, $11); Ankara (3hr., frequent 6am-6:30pm, $5); Antalya (11hr., 8pm, $10); Güzelyurt (1hr., 5 per day 11am-6:30pm, $1); Ihlara (1hr., 3 per day llam-6pm, $.60); Istanbul (9hr., frequent 8-10pm, $10); İzmir (11hr., 7:30pm, $11); Kayseri (2hr., frequent. 5:30am-7pm, $4.25); Konya (2hr., frequent 6am-6:15pm, $4.25); Nevşehir (1hr., every hr., $2); Niğde (1hr., 6 per day 8am-5pm, $1.50). Nevşehir-Konya and Nevşehir-Ankara buses stop at the Mobil station on the ring road, 2 km from the center of town. Either take a taxi ($5), or walk (ask for the city center: şehir merkezi).

ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The tourist office is on the left a few blocks past the main square. The easiest way to get there is to turn right as you exit the Ulu Camii park. (Supposedly open M-F 8am-5pm. Actual hours are erratic.) A number of banks and ATMs surround the square, but none offer currency exchange. To change money, head over to any of the döviz offices (change bureaus) across from the mosque; try Aksaray Doviz and Altin, opposite Aksaray’s only Iş Bank, in the city center. The police can be reached at 215 07 14. Aksaray is home to a large, modern hospital (212 91 00, 213 10 43, or 213 52 07), at the entrance to town. The two Internet cafes charge $1.50 per hr.; one is 100m up the road from the otogar toward the main square, and the other is 50m from the main square toward the tourist office. To find the PTT, take a right before the square, walk a few minutes to the park, and turn left it’s across a small side street from the camii. From here, the office, marked by a large roof antenna, is risible. (Open daily 8:30am-12:30pm and l:30-5:30pm.) Postal code: 68100.

ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD

Rooms in Aksaray can be very cheap, often for good reason. Women traveling alone and unmarried couples may have difficulty finding accommodations. The ones listed here are among the less questionable. Tezcancar Hotel , next door to the central police station (merkez polis karakolu), has a nice restaurant and rooms with TV, phone, and shower. ( 213 84 82. $7 per person.) About. 100 meters behind the Kurşunlu Mosque, Ihlara Pension  ( 213 60 83) has basic rooms for $3 per person. If you choose to avoid the city center, you can camp at Ağaçlı Turistik Tesisleri , which is accessible only by a $7- 8 round-trip taxi ride, (215 24 00. $4 per person; $3 per camper.)

The center of town is replete with unremarkable, cheap lokanlas. The Golden Apple Pastanesi  (213 67 65) is a pastry shop buzzing with the music of teenagers’ cell phones and adorned with funky ceiling art. It features Turkish preserves such as kuim pasta (stuffed cheese pastries; $4 per kg) and susamlı peynirli (salt-covered pastries), along with ice cream and a selection of sweets.

SIGHTS

The Zinciriye Medresesi, built in the Karamanoğlu period, is a museum of artifacts from the diverse inhabitants of Aksaray’s past. Works of the Ilittites, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Selçuks, and Ottomans are on display, including a Hittite stone marker, a 3rd-century Roman eagle sculpture, and a cannon from World War I. To get there, head away from the otogar past the city

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BBG, BAD WOLF?

Over seven centuries ago, a Sufi named Hacı Bektaş Veli warned a shepherd not to lead his sheep onto a certain hill, where the wolves would certainly decimate his flock. The shepherd scoffed at the warning and left his herd grazing unattended for a few moments, when, lo and behold, the sheep were killed by marauding wolves. When the suspicious shepherd found the remains of his flock, he demanded eyewitness testimony to confirm that wolves were to blame. Suddenly, at the behest of Hacı Bektaş Veli, five large rocks on the hill made their way over to the shepherd and affirmed that wolves had indeed killed the sheep.

square, turn right, and walk downhill. (Open Tu-Su 8am-noon and l:30-5:30pm. Free.) Built by the Karamanoğlu in the early 15th century, the Ulu Camii, across from the PTT, remains one of the town’s religious centers. The Selçuk Eğri Minare (Crooked Minaret), five minutes farther up the main road and on the right, was built with red bricks in the 13th century. Its 92 stairs cannot be climbed because the structure is leaning. The street below is partially cordoned off in anticipation of any steel rope failure. Rumors claim that this crooked minaret inspired Pisa’s famous tower.

HACIBEKTAS

I have rained with the rain and I have grown as grass. I have guided aright the country of Rum; I was Bektaş, who came from Khurasan.

Hacı Bektaş Veli

Five kilometers from those fabled stones is a village of about 8000 that takes its name from its most romanticized inhabitant. Although the details of ilacı Bektaş Veli’s birth and death are unclear, his progressive beliefs inspired a dervish order, the Bektaşi, that continued to spread his teachings and to exert religious and political influence in both the Ottoman Empire and in modern Turkey (see Sufism, p. 30). Hacıbektaş hosts a festival every year from August 16-18 to honor its Sufi namesake. The town has attracted followers for centuries, and today the festival draws thousands of pilgrims from all over Turkey.

TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The T-junction where Atatürk Bul. (which becomes Nevşehir Cad. after the museum) meets Hacı Bektaş Veli Bul. marks the center of town. Adorned by a statue of the great Sufi master, this intersection also serves as the local bus stop. A number of bus companies have booths nearby. Buses leave for: İstanbul (5:30, 8pm; $13); İzmir (6:30, 8:30pm; $13); Kırşehir (9, 10am, 2:30, 6:30pm; $1.25); Mersin (12:30, 3:30pm; $7.50); Nevşehir (8:30, 11:30am, 2:30, 5:30pm; $1.25).

Services include: the tourist office (441 36 87; open M-F 8am-noon and 1:30- 5:30pm); a pharmacy (441 36 58), opposite the museum; a hospital (341 30 15 or 341 35 85), down Nevşehir Cad.; and the PTT, on Atatürk Bul., between the museum and town square (open daily 8am-12:30pm and l:30-5:30pm). Postal code: 50800.

ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD

The Hotel Hünkar , in the complex of shops opposite the museum, offers 16 basic rooms and a restaurant/bar. (441 33 44. Singles with bath $8.) Even more basic is the Fuat Baba Penslyon , down Hacı Bektaş Veli Bul., about 1km from the museum. (441 30 70. Singles $5, with bath $7.) Eateries in the town center are decorated with portraits of Hacı Bektaş Veli and serve standard food ($2).

SIGHTS

The Old Hacıbektaş Müzesi, at the end of Atatürk Bul., includes the lodge of the Bektaşi dervishes and the Sufi’s tomb. It is centered around three main courtyards, and Anglophone visitors can listen to a recorded walking tour. The mostly unremarkable first courtyard contains the ticket booth and the Three Saints Fountain, built in 1902. Pass through the Door of the Three at the end to enter the second courtyard, dominated by a rectangular pool with a lion-shaped fountain. The Aş Evi (dervish kitchen), through the first door on the right, contains a number of cooking utensils, including a massive black cauldron.

The second door on the right leads to the small but exquisite Tekke Mosque. The series of rooms on the left includes the Ceremonial Hall, where Bektaşi ritual ceremonies were held. The nine-vaulted ceiling represents the nine levels of the celestial path. Enter the third courtyard through the Gate of the Six, where you’ll pass a comer commemorating Atatürk’s visit here in 1919. Filled with the graves of dedicated dervishes, the courtyard has two main buildings which house the dead. To the right, under the shade of the 700-year-old Wish Tree, stands the mausoleum of the second greatest Bektaşi, Balım Sultan, who was responsible for spreading the order into Europe. It is said that God will grant the wishes of those who tie ribbons to the tree. To the right as you enter the main building is the tiny room (çile hane), where dervishes meditated to achieve communion with God.

Beyond this are several display cases with some of the order’s prized artifacts including devices used to help keep dedicated dervishes awake for up to 14 days at a time. Off of the main chamber, called the Forty Saints area, lies Hacı Bektaş Veli’s opulent coffin. Door-ways in the museum are tiny not because the Bektaşi are unusually petite, but because short entrances make visitors bow humbly before God. Like the Tekke Mosque, this building is holy ground; visitors should dress conservatively and remove their shoes, though it is not necessary for women to wear headscarves. In the Sufi tradition, stepping directly on a doorway’s threshold is disrespectful. (Museum open Tu-Su 8:30am-noon and l:30-5:30pm. $1.25.)

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